Central bankers issued a stern warning against the dangers of surging inflation, saying rising energy costs risk damaging growth in rich and poor countries alike.Policymakers attending talks at the annual meeting of the Bank for International Settlements said they were on high alert to the dangers posed by rising inflation and slowing growth, but there was no one-size-fits-all solution.
“We see very difficult times for the world economy moving ahead,” said Martin Redrado, Argentina's central bank governor.
“In particular in the financial sector we are going to be witnessing the second wave of turbulence now that the slowdown is going to hit consumer credit ... It is uncharted waters that we are testing at this point, and central bankers all over the world are very alert.”
Officials from more than 100 central banks exchanged views on the global economic outlook on Saturday and agreed oil prices - which surged past $142 a barrel for the first time last week - were a major concern.
In emerging economies, where consumers spend more of their income on food than in industrialized nations, inflation is no longer just a monetary policy problem but a social one.
“Around the world there is an enormous problem because of the rise in crude oil prices,” Daouda Bangoura, Guinea's central bank governor, told Reuters.
Guinea, the world's top bauxite exporter, is among countries from Asia to Western Europe where anger over inflation has ignited protest and sometimes violence.
A mutiny in Guinea this month left two dead and several wounded in a shoot-out between an anti-riot brigade and police demanding payment of salary arrears.
“We need to take concerted measures against inflation. We need to conciliate policy with social considerations ... in many countries today we are seeing tensions and protests,” Bangoura said.
Chinese central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said he expected some domestic inflation pressures in the world's most populous nation to ease due to a good harvest.
“However, we know the international price of energy and other commodities, they add additional pressure to inflation in China,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the meetings, also attended by European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Central bankers agreed there was no single way to tame inflation and boost growth.
“The issue today is that this adjustment that must take in relative prices does not result in wage and price spirals or increases in inflationary expectations that will make it much more difficult then to stabilize economies,” said Jose de Gregorio, who heads the Chilean central bank. “Which measures on monetary policy each country must take depends on their situation at the moment.”
Even countries like the United Arab Emirates, enjoying surging revenues from oil exports, say oil prices have gone too far.
“Oil prices - we would like to see them lower ... whatever the market can reduce them to. I know (it benefits the UAE) but it creates also other problems,” Sultan Nasser Al-Suweidi, the UAE's central bank governor, told Reuters.
Gulf states in particular, which peg their currencies to the dollar, have seen inflation surge to record highs but policymakers' options have been limited as the peg forces them to track the policy of the US Federal Reserve, which has cut interest rates aggressively to bolster the economy.
The resulting decline in the dollar has in turn fuelled the surge in global energy and commodity prices, creating a vicious circle.
Yet Al-Suweidi, echoed by Qatar's central bank governor Sheikh Abdullah bin Saud Al-Thani, said there was no change in the region's exchange rate policy.
“We are firm on the (dollar) peg, there's no revaluation,” Al-Suweidi said.
“We see that inflation is causing the United States to raise interest rates in the near future and that's going to take the dollar up. So why do anything opposite to what is good for us?” (Reuters)